8 Hours 55 Mins | Simon & Schuster Audio | Historical | 8/04/2020
I don’t typically seek out “Black trauma” books so I don’t know what possessed me to pick this up but I am so glad I did. The Black Kids is an evocative, stunning and salient (historical?) YA set during the L.A. Riots following the Rodney King verdict.
Our protagonist is Ashley Bennett an upper-class Black teen in Brentwood trying to get through the end of her senior year; while just a few miles away South Central is on fire. Throughout the book, Ashley contemplates the good and bad in the world and tries to figure out her place in all of the turmoil.
Most of the narrative is Ashley’s stream-of-conscious as she goes through her day. Hammond brilliantly works in the interstitial brief histories that open up the story without feeling like a detour. There is even a section in future second person, which is a tense that can come off as pretentious but works cleverly in this context.
The audiobook is narrated by actress Kiersey Clemons. Her lazy, soft, scratchy voice is perfect for this book. If they ever make this into a movie I could totally see her playing Ashley’s radicalized older sister.
I happened to read this when the Derek Chauvin verdict was coming out and I’m sure for Boomers and Gen X, the L.A. Riots were on their minds. It feels something like progress to look at how differently things turned out. I think a lot of teens feel like the world is worse than it has ever been but Hammonds reminds us that the world has been grappling with the same issues for decades. The only difference is the way we respond to them is always changing. And eventually, maybe, we will get it right.
I feel like the marketing of this book is a bit misleading. This book mostly focuses on Ashely’s family and the tenuous place they have in society as upper-class Black people. The back copy and title makes it seem like the entire book is focused on a singular incident where Ashley inadvertently starts a rumor that one of the scholarship Black kids at her private school was looting. I wouldn’t call this incident the main conflict of the book and it sets it up like there is this Us vs. Them thing between her and the other Black kids that there isn’t.
I’m a lifelong reader who started blogging about YA books in 2011 but now I read in just about every genre! I love YA coming of age stories, compelling memoirs and genre bending SFF. You can find me talking all things romance at Romance and Sensibility.